On this morning I awake at 4:30 AM to attend a Ram Dev Yoga Class (a famous saint teaching yoga to large crowds in India) at Pashupatinath Temple, the main burning ground of Kathmandu, with Poonam and Ashok, two upper class Nepalis. We enter the temple area, cross the bridge over the Baghmati River, and walk up the big stairs through lines of sleeping monkeys and freezing beggars sitting around bonfires.
We sit on a large carpet placed outdoors. It is still completely dark and by 6 am, the class commences. It is in Nepali and I can only understand the Sanskrit names of the postures. There are about 25 persons sitting and waiting for instructions from the “guru” speaking in a microphone. Students are of both sexes, of all ages, and from all levels of the Nepali society. The sound system makes a high sharp noise and there is a guy who does his best to fix it.
On our left side, the stone shrines of Pashupati overlook the scene. Some stray dogs are sleeping between the rows of students, on the comfortable carpet that seems to be here just for them. On the wall in front, monkeys are looking for mischief and I am told to keep my bags close by, just in case. It smells of garbage burning and people around wear heavy winter jacket, hats, and socks, and for a reason: it is 5°C and it feels like it.
We start with Om and mantras; I am happy to know them and to participate as everyone chants. Then we do a series of warming exercises like jogging in place and jumping back and forth between Urdva Mukha Svanasana (upward dog) and squat in order to beat the cold, followed by some classical Surya Namaskara (sun salutations). We sit again for some pranayama (breathing techniques) and then some floor poses, always with hand clapping and rubbing at intervals to keep some feeling in our fingers numbed by the cold. The class goes on for 90 minutes, alternating between gentle asanas and pranayamas, nothing that would satisfy the basic rules of a “flowing sequence” as per western standards, but nevertheless a very classical practice. None of the challenging poses we see in the west, which were not expected by anyone here, either. People are in blue jeans or kurtas (local casual dress) and you can see they will probably go straight to work after this.
Savasana is a challenge; the cold is biting my fingers and toes. However, there is a deep source of heat that comes from the center of my body, something that creates a bearable balance. I can feel a fire inside, working to keep me warm, but from where I look, strangely there is no feeling of cold or heat. After a few more rubbing hands, we finished with Simhasana (the Lion pose) and everyone roars wholeheartedly (not the shy practice I am used to) and then a good minute of laughter yoga. Such a genuine energy is coming out of this group that I can only feel humbled and grateful to be here.
By now the smell has changed to chai (milk masala tea) and aloo paratha (fried potato pancakes), the day is coming out, however the sun will need another half hour to come; the temperature is now 4°C. The power went off, so no more lights or microphone, something everyone is used to here with more than 6 hours of daily power cut. The Pujaris (men in charge of the prayers at the shrines) are ringing bells, chanting and burning incense; the dogs are playing and fighting; the monkeys are roaming around in search of food.
The beggars are sitting wrapped in rags in front of their begging bowls, the painted sadhus prepare to receive the crowds of tourists for the day. The first corpses are burning on the Ghats remind us to appreciate every moment while we are here. Today we were closer to the aghori (form of yoga practice on burning grounds). When we walked back over the bridge showing a once-mighty Baghmati River, now looking more like a sewage drain, with barely enough water remaining to carry away the ashes of the departed souls, I feel sad for the little respect we pay to our home, mother Earth.
I know Pashupati (a form of Shiva) was here all along, I felt his strong and powerful presence. The legend says that Shiva was hiding in the nearby forest in the form of a deer (pashu means animal), until the other gods forced him back into his divine form. In the process, Shiva broke one horn and it became the linga (the representation of Shiva) worshipped here, one of the holiest places in the whole sub-continent.
Today the cold was our tapas (meaning heat, but also discipline and austerity). I can’t help to think about how many times I have heard students complain about the “conditions” of practice, either too hot, too cold, etc. Always trying to fix something outside to feel good inside. I also think about Hot or Bikram yoga so in fashion these days, where the heat does not come from your practice but from the heated room.
Here there was no performance, no fluorescent yoga mat, no Lululemon clothing, the class was free, everyone was smiling and lighthearted, no one complained. Something was present here that I have never felt in any other class in my life. I think it was just simple and genuine, maybe a feel of faith embedded in daily life and not something made up or pretending to be anything else.
Someone told me “It is hard sometimes but we feel so good after. Will you come tomorrow?” I had tears in my eyes.
December 12, 2011
Gaby started yoga after years of martial arts and an injury. Full time teacher since 2008 he now spends most of the year in India or Nepal, at the source of the science that now fuel his life, meeting inspirational teachers in the persons of monks, swamis, babas, hermits and other yoga gurus and enlightening beings. His teachings are profoundly inspired by his life in the East, Ayurveda, Yoga Philosophy and his previous life as an activist. He is co-founder of yogi-nomad.org a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding consciousness through Yoga worldwide.